PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. — The easy way out was to go low under a tree 20 feet ahead.

Rory McIlroy was looking up instead.

Coming off a 10-foot eagle and a 20-foot birdie that tied him for the lead Friday in The Players Championship, McIlroy risked wasting that great finish with a bold shot. His caddie, Harry Diamond, tried to talk him out of it. McIlroy instead opened the face of a pitching wedge and sent it straight up in the air, letting the right-to-left wind carry it onto the green 15 feet away.

“I stepped over it a couple times like, ‘No, I think I can do this,”‘ McIlroy said. “I just opened up a wedge as much as I could and just took a swipe at it, and the ball sort of came out the way I thought.”

He got his par for a 7-under 65 and was tied with Tommy Fleetwood. Fleetwood opened birdie-eagle-birdie on his way to a 67.

They were at 12-under 132, three shots clear of anyone else.

And they were nine shots ahead of Tiger Woods, who played solid golf except for one hole. Woods put two balls into the water on the notorious par-3 17th, leading to a quadruple bogey that wiped out a good start and forced him to settle for a 71.

Given the nature of this golf course – and a forecast for a different wind – the fun might just be starting.

And that’s as far as McIlroy was willing to look.

“Winning is a byproduct of doing all the right things, and I feel like if I can continue to do those things well, hopefully I do end up with the trophy on Sunday,” he said. “But there’s a lot of golf to play before that.”

The biggest surprise from the group three shots behind might be the 48-year-old Furyk, mainly because he didn’t think he would be at Sawgrass. After two years as Ryder Cup captain, his world ranking plunged to No. 231. But he played well enough early this season to get into the strongest field in golf at the last minute, then carded his best score in 25 appearances at the TPC – a 64 that put him in the group at 9-under 135.

Ian Poulter, who resurrected his PGA Tour career with a runner-up finish at The Players two years ago, had a 66 and was three shots behind, along with Abraham Ancer of Mexico (66) and Brian Harman (69).

Dustin Johnson, the world’s No. 1 player, also had an eagle-birdie-par finish for a 68 and was five shots behind.